A good ear, knowledge of materials, and the expert touch
Chantal Van Lierop is a luthier, specialising in the double bass. She lives in the small Småland community of Stockaryd, where she also has a showroom and a workshop that attracts musicians from all over the world.
Chantal grew up in the Netherlands, where she embarked on a career as a lawyer. Her husband is a classical musician, and for a while the couple roamed Europe to find somewhere to settle. This rootless life made it difficult for Chantal to find a job as a lawyer, as different countries require learning different legal systems. When the couple ultimately ended up in Glasgow, she decided to do something new and trained to be a luthier. Her decision paved the way for what is now known as Van Lierop Bowed Instruments.
“For several years, I ran a shop and workshop in Glasgow, but then I would once again long for something different. My husband and I wanted to get more out of life and sought tranquility, greenery, and serenity; a place where water is associated with swimming in lakes rather than rain beating down on asphalt and concrete. We realised that we already had what we were looking for, so we packed our bags and moved to our summer house in Stockaryd,” says Chantal.
As a luthier, Chantal combines her passions for music and craftsmanship. She describes the profession as varied, requiring curiosity, craftsmanship, and a good ear.
“Even now, I’m still in awe at the properties of wood, and the fact that a single type of wood can be an infinite sound library depending on how it is processed, and that it can be thinly planed and still retain its strength. I chose the double bass as my specialty because it has so many components that can be adjusted to change the sound. There’s not a single instruction book you can consult. I like that,” says Chantal.
Stockaryd has become a destination for those who want to buy, repair, or restore a double bass. One of her international clients, a musician from Zurich, describes Chantal as a skilled instrument maker with an exceptional ear for music.
“Many of my customers return, as trust is very important when it comes to classical instruments. When one of my now regular customers visited me for the first time, he was nervous about handing over his double bass. But he did. When he later returned to pick it up, he sat down to try it out, and he played, and played, and played with a smile on his face. That kind of experience really inspires and motivates me in my work,” says Chantal.
An instrument should be an extension of the person playing it, and so the relationship between the instrument maker and the musician is central to this process. Musicians can describe the sound or feeling they want to achieve, but they lack the tools and knowledge to make this vision a reality, which is where Chantal comes in.
“Much of my job is a sort of matching process, where I adapt the instrument to the customer’s physique and playing style. Musicians need support here because they cannot play and be the audience at the same time. They can easily feel the difference in an instrument, and I help them hear it,” says Chantal.
Chantal creates instruments in different price ranges, setting them up to the best playability and sound properties. Although she says that the craftsmanship and quality vary between cheaper and more expensive options, no matter what instrument she is working on, good tools and accessories are always important. For the last 15 years she’s worked on a Sjöbergs carpenter’s bench, and pretty much lives next door to the factory where they’re made.
“I like where I am right now, both in life and in my creation. I’m proud to know that my instruments are used on stages all over the world. In a way, I have the opportunity to be part of a new journey within the realm of classical music through every new, repaired, or restored instrument,” Chantal concludes.